Off the Record
By Austin Powell, Fri., June 27, 2008
Benny Thurman, 1943-2008
The original bassist for the 13th Floor Elevators, Benny Thurman, who can be heard on such landmark psychedelic recordings as "You're Gonna Miss Me" and "She Lives (in a Time of Her Own)," died Sunday of undisclosed illnesses after more than two weeks in intensive care at Seton Hospital. Born in Austin Feb. 20, 1943, Thurman trained as a classical violinist at UT before joining the U.S. Marine Corps. He was a founding member of the Lingsmen, a popular skiffle band in Port Arthur that, with the addition of Tommy Hall and Roky Erickson, became the Elevators, whose enlightened, acid-fueled psychedelia forever changed the face of rock & roll. "If you listen closely to The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators, you can hear his characteristic whooping in the background," recalls 'Vators collaborator and songwriter Powell St. John. "He was a very colorful character, always fun to watch, and great on the bass." Thurman left the Elevators in 1966, occasionally cropping up in the mid-1970s on fiddle with such notable local acts as Plum Nelly. He retired from a state job and spent his later years caring for his mother. "Believe me, nobody wants to stay on the 13th floor," Thurman told the Chronicle ("High Baptismal Flow: Part II," Aug. 20, 2004). "It was all an experiment, but it was a great experience. A lot of people never get to experience anything at all. Not just performing, but the life around it, the sparkle of it, the groove. I got some of it."
Sink or Swim
Adult cartoon enthusiasts Austin Swim have indefinitely postponed plans for their fourth summer season due to their ongoing struggle to acquire the necessary permits to open their new venue, Swim on Fifth (1000 E. Fifth). Envisioned as a joint effort between Austin Swim's Troy Dillinger, Progress Coffee, 501 Studios' Richard Kooris, and Mike Henry of the Electric Lounge, the temporary venue would feature a 20-foot above-ground pool and multimedia performances four to seven nights a week. "We are capable of providing a safe, one-of-a-kind 'Austin original' live-music venue for the summer months this year," says Dillinger, "but the rules for doing so won't allow us to."
Invitation to the blues
Tom Waits vowed never to return to Austin after his entourage met trouble during South by Southwest 1999. He came close enough this past week, though, for the Glitter and Doom Tour to keep the chatter at the Chronicle's watercooler bubbling as fervently as the bitterness plaguing OTR for missing both the Sunday stop at Houston's Jones Hall, which included "Tom Traubert's Blues" and a punch line involving "pastika," and Monday's two-hour excursion at the Palladium in Dallas. For a full discourse on the latter, see "Phases & Stages."
Best Part of Breaking Up
The Carrots embody the sun-kissed splendor and romanticism of 1960s girl groups but with a decidedly indie aesthetic. The local sevenpiece just released the Covers EP, a hand-printed, nine-song jukebox collection that spans from the Ronettes ("Best Part of Breaking Up") and the Marvelettes ("Postman") to the Crystals ("Then He Kissed Me") and Shangri-Las ("Remember [Walking in the Sand]"), plus a stellar reading of Irma Thomas' "Breakaway." "We started off as a cover band," confides singer Veronica Ortuño, who relocated to Portland, Ore., this week but will continue her work with the Carrots and its brash predecessor, Finally Punk. "We wanted to get a feel of what it was like to write girl-group music." The history lesson paid royal dividends in the form of two 7-inch singles for Spain's Elefant Records, "Doing Our Part" and "Beverly." Limited to 1,000 copies, both four-song 45s are lilted by the sultry vocals of YellowFever's Jennifer Moore and rich with buoyant, wordless harmonies. The Carrots look the part, too. "Everyone had to learn to make their own outfits, even the boys," Ortuño says. "We have sewing circles at my home. We've probably made about 10 outfits, but a few of them were nixed. One came out looking like an outfit for a Denny's waitress."
• Texans don't come any truer than James Hand. The local country maverick, who recently wrapped up recording sessions with Ray Benson for the follow-up to his 2006 Rounder Records debut, The Truth Will Set You Free, will represent the Lone Star State at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, July 2-6, for its presentation of Texas: A Celebration of Music, Food, and Wine. See "Food-o-File," for more.
• Shearwater has been tapped to open for Coldplay on four dates in July. "I'm flattered," responded singer Jonathan Meiburg, "and a bit bewildered."
• Having conquered NBC this past week with scorching performances on both The Today Show and Late Night With Conan O'Brien, Alejandro Escovedo is confirmed to appear on Late Show With David Letterman on Aug. 7. The local legend headlines the sixth annual Keep Austin Weird Festival at Auditorium Shores on Saturday with What Made Milwaukee Famous, Black Joe Lewis & the Honey Bears, and Super Pal Universe.
• Highly recommended: The cheeky indie pop of Austin's Oh No! Oh My! graces both the soundtrack for season three of Weeds, available now through iTunes, and Emo's Lounge on Friday with locals Corto Maltese and Legs Against Arms.
If These Walls Could Talk
Behind the south wall of the Texas Showdown Saloon on Guadalupe, which closed down last month, lies perhaps the most definitive image of Austin's early punk scene, a mural of rats in a sewer, painted in 1978, when the building was still known as Raul's. "It was the background for the pit scene for the Big Boys and the Dicks," recalls Chronicle senior Music scribe Margaret Moser. "There was something about seeing those rats that could really rev you up when you were out there dancing your ass off." As much a part of the city's history as Daniel Johnston's "Hi, How Are You" mural, the rats face extinction if the building's torn down, so a group of concerned citizens are rallying to preserve the vermin. The South Austin Museum of Popular Culture has already expressed interest in purchasing and transporting the artwork the same way it did previously for a Ken Featherstone mural located in a private residence. "The rats are very emblematic of Austin punk," assures Moser.